Five Things I Know: Simone Ubaldi, Save Our Scene Victoria

Simone Ubaldi is a seasoned jack of all musical trades: she co-manages Amyl and the Sniffers, books gigs for one of Melbourne’s most beloved venues, the Croxton Bandroom, and is a lead organiser of the Save Our Scene Victoria movement. She speaks to NME about how creative businesses are being shafted amid the pandemic, how governments can better understand the music industry and more

1. Creative businesses aren’t treated as businesses

What we’ve seen with arts funding is that music industry businesses – a lot of them very small – aren’t treated like businesses, they’re treated like creatives. They’re offered project funding through RISE or Creative Victoria, and they’re told, “If you come up with a great idea, and you fill out this complex grant application, and if you’re successful competitively against everyone else who’s applying for that grant application for that one idea, then we’ll give you some money to get through the pandemic.”

This is different from every cafe, every bank, every hairdresser, every other kind of business in the country that was told, “Hey, you’re shut down, so we’re going to give you all money, we’re gonna distribute it widely to keep this economy buoyed and keep this culture buoyed until we get out. Some of it’s going to go to the wrong places, and it’s not going to be a perfect fit, but if we distribute the money far and wide, we know we’ll sustain the economy.”

Governments just don’t do the work of thinking about the fact that our businesses – because of the mass indoor gatherings – stay locked down longer, so they need that sustaining money for longer. And then there’s a whole issue around gig workers and sole traders that work in the industry, who are also not captured in the small business funding and have fallen through the cracks.

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Simone Ubaldi
Simone Ubaldi. Courtesy of Simone Ubaldi

2. The music industry shouldn’t be mysterious

There is absolutely a lack of understanding about how the music industry operates, and there are many different business models within it. But if governments consulted directly with the industry, then it would be able to explain those things.

So, I don’t think that the music industry is a dark art. I can tell you how I make my money, and so can others in the industry. In terms of venues, you’ve got little ones, big ones, stadiums, and they all have different models – but it’s just a conversation. It’s not like there are so many of them in the country that you can’t figure out a pretty good financial solution for most of them.

That’s the thing that makes me crazy. It’s an important sector but in terms of the people that work in it, it’s a small sector. If there were more direct conversations, I really think this stuff could be figured out.

“You need to be bold, brave and friendly – without being a punisher”

3. Venues are concerned about the short term

I have faith that we are going to have conversations with the Victorian government that will get us back to 100 per cent [audience capacity] as they have done in other parts of the world, where there have been high vaccination rates. And we have many, many artists who have pushed their shows into next year, anticipating that that is when it will happen. The short and medium term are what we’re worried about, rather than the long term.

With the whole international border situation, it’s really hard for larger venues because so much of our supply for those venues are international bands and Australia is a really small market. Even for like massive bands that are playing Rod Laver Arena, it’s still a small market. If there are all these obstacles and barriers to them getting here, they’ll prioritise other territories.

4. Fortune favours the bold

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To get your foot in the door of the music industry, you need to be bold, brave and friendly – without being a punisher. There are lots of wonderful people that work in the music industry who, if you approach them the right way, are pretty generous with their time. My business partner Andrew [Parisi] is a very big fan of just picking up the phone and calling someone – I always have to steel myself, I hate cold calling… but it’s that mentality of if you don’t ask, if you don’t try, you definitely won’t succeed.

I’m 42 and I still have imposter syndrome. But you also get a bit more courageous as you go. You have to back yourself because it’s a very scrappy industry and it tends to reward people who are bold without being punishers – that is a very important post-script.

Amyl & The Sniffers live in 2019
Amyl & The Sniffers live in 2019. Credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

5. Good managers respect their artists’ decisions

With the Sniffers, the band make their own decisions. Ultimately, it’s their art, it’s their company, they are its directors and they make the final decisions. They obviously have quite a lot of vision for who they are and what they want to create. Our job is to give them advice on strategic issues and help them to make good business decisions. We’ll make our case and they listen, but it’s always their call.

There have been times we have clashed, but [Andrew and I have] stuck around. We feel very passionately, not just about the music and the business, but also about them as people: we love them very much. And it’s hard not to care a lot about how their lives are going to work out. So we definitely have been very strong in expressing our opinion in the past, but we never, never, never lose sight of the fact that it is their band and their careers.

Musicians are crazy. They’re all crazy, even the ones that aren’t crazy. They’re often young, and it can be hard to let a young person make their own mistakes, but you have to let them have autonomy over their life. You have to know that they’re all fucking crazy and that they mean well – at least ours do – and we respect that.

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